The Business of Saturdays | Teen Ink

The Business of Saturdays

September 4, 2014
By rosie848 GOLD, Niverville, New York
rosie848 GOLD, Niverville, New York
11 articles 7 photos 0 comments

Favorite Quote:
Well, let it pass. April is over, April is over. There are all kinds of love in this world, but never the same love twice.

The 3rd Saturday

“I’ve been thinking about death.” He’s sitting up, propped on his elbows. It looks uncomfortable, but he doesn’t move. The room is so white. White that hasn’t been cleaned, white that’s too clean.

“I guess that’s unavoidable.” He’s covered to the bottom of his ribs by this dirty too-white sheet, and I’m sure underneath he’s wearing dirty too-white boxers and dirty too-white socks. His hair is still that same dark color though, the inky black. His lips are still that warm pink, his eyes are still blue.

“I’m so cliché. I hate it. Kid dying. Kid running out of time. Kid has cancer. Kid thinking about death.” He says. I want to take his hand, but it’s underneath that dirty too-white sheet, and I’m terrified.

He’s so thin. I don’t remember him being so thin. I can see his ribs, all bare and exposed and sharp. His cheeks are that way too, sharp, exposed. But his hair is still so dark, and his eyes are still so blue.

“You’re not cliché.”

His skin is pale, dirty too-white.

A nurse, with blonde curls and a big chest and a tray of food covered in thick plastic walks in. Her scrubs have music notes on them, in primary colors. Here, everything is primary, everything is dirty too-white. She has the kind of nails that are artificially too long, the kind that make clacking noises when she types. She’s nice, but not too nice.

Levi sits up further, leaning back against the wall, his head resting on his shoulder. I wish it was mine.

“Hungry, sweetheart?”

“Not too much. I hate throwing up.” He doesn’t sound as tired as he looks. His voice is still the same. The same cadence, the same wit, the same melody, but poured out. Filled up.

“Who’s your lady friend?” She asks.

I expect him to say something, but he doesn’t, just sighs.

“I’m Cyrus. I come every Saturday.” I say, and he closes his eyes.

“She does but she shouldn’t.” He says, and straightens his neck, sitting upright, opening eyes. “I’m dying and it’s embarrassing.”

I can’t argue with him. I shouldn’t want to watch him die, he’s not some sort of spectator sport, he’s not a zoo attraction. The thing is that I don’t know if I could leave him all alone here, in this endless forest off too white and primary and black and blue and vomit and piss.

“You going to leave?” He asks, I assume to the nurse. She crosses her arms and shifts her weight. “Because I’d much rather get this over with.”

“I know the minute I leave you’re going to have your friend eat all of this, and I’m not letting that happen.” He picks up a fork and pushes the runny scrambled eggs around.

“I told you I was hungry, Dot. What did you think I was doing, lying?” He twirls the fork in his right hand, almost smirking. The same almost smirk I remember.

“It wouldn’t be the first time.”

“Ah, the chronicles of Levi the Fourth of July sparkler. Slowly dying, but going to burn a few before he goes out.” Levi is prone to saying things like this. Things that might make sense if they were worded differently or said by somebody maybe less pale and skinny and poured out. Filled up. It’s just that he has too much time to think. No one should have that much time to think, especially someone who’s dying.

In my experience, Levi doesn’t care much about his own death. He’s told me more times than I can count that he’d much rather be dead, that his existence is all but useless. The only reason, I think, he’s sticking around is people like me. People like his father. His dying doesn’t have much of an impact on him, more of an impact on us, and he knows it.

“Your father specifically told me he wants to see you gain a few pounds.”

“Which one of us?” Levi asks.

She rolls her eyes.

“I’ll be back in 15 minutes.” She leaves, and as soon as the door closes, he groans.

“Jesus. Will you eat this? It tastes like s*** but I can’t throw up again after last night.” He picks up the faded yellow plastic bowl full of what looks like faded yellow plastic oatmeal. I look at his ribs, I look at his fingers. Thin, ugly.

“Sure. Yeah.”

“Really? You’d poison yourself for me?” I can tell he’s joking, but all I can think about is his chemo treatments. CVCs and IVs and pills and alopecia.

“Yeah. I would.” I take the bowl and a spoon and start to eat. He picks up the small container of vanilla pudding and frowns.

“You’d think they’d give you something good, like Lucky Charms.”

“They’re not exactly healthy for you, ya know.”

“What are they gonna do, Cyrus, kill me?” He laughs, punctuating it with a cough.

“Aren’t you supposed to be on oxygen?”

“That’s only when I’m asleep. I’m a free man from 7 in the morning to 8 at night.”

I almost mention that technically he can’t leave the hospital, but I don’t. He’s too happy, even though I know it’s mostly for my sake. It doesn’t make me feel better, though, knowing he hates being alive.

“Are you lonely in here? At night?”

“Sometimes. My dad is always around though.”

Levi’s dad, Max, is what you’d call an over protective father. Constantly worrying and waiting and over thinking and brushing and fixing. I’m surprised that I’ve been here for almost an hour and he hasn’t walked in.

“There are other people too. I play cards sometimes. I f***ing hate cards.”

I fumble for what to say.

“I was at the mall the other day, with Cara.”

“She still a b****?”

“I don’t have much of a selection, but yes. She is still a b****. Anyway, we were at that pet store-“

He sits up straighter, his eyes lighting up,

“The one with the parrot?”

Three years ago, when we were 15, we went to this pet store in a mall for rich people in Portland. It’s so fancy that they have valet and fountains that spit fire and water simultaneously. And, yes, a pet store.

“Yeah, and I was walking around and towards the back-“


“Yes! The parrot!”

This particular parrot wasn’t exactly groundbreaking in the scheme of things, but back when we were 15, Levi taught it how to swear when people walked by.

“It told me to f*** off.” I say, and he smiles.

Just then, Max walks in. He’s carrying in one hand a bouquet of flowers and in the other a gray plastic bag advertising Walmart. He looks surprised, and I put the oatmeal back on Levi’s tray. He groans again, almost comically.

“Hey, kiddo.”

One of the funniest things about Levi and his dad is that Max always calls him “kiddo.” Almost no matter what, in every situation, Max calls Levi by this dumb pet name. I think it has something to do with the fact Levi’s mom used to call him that, before she left them. For 12 years it’s just been the two of them, Levi and Max. Max and Levi.

“Hey, dad.”

“Feeling better?”

Levi doesn’t answer, just peels open his pudding and picks up the now dirty spoon. He examines it, just like he did his fork, flipping it around in his fingers.

“Hey, Mr. Hout.” I say, and he looks like he’s just noticed I’m sitting there.

“Cyrus! Hi.” He sets down the bag on a chair, and begins unwrapping the cellophane from around the flowers. They’re daisies, and I’m almost positive he spent the last hour in the hospital gift shop, talking to the woman who runs the register, wondering out loud what kind of flowers he should buy. “Lev, tutor’s coming at 4.”

It’s almost hysterical that Levi needs a tutor. It’s not like he needs to keep up his grades, and I know he thinks the same thing, but he does it for his dad. In some ways, it’s almost like Levi’s taking care of his father instead of the other way around.

“This pudding is gonna make me sick.” Levi says, and Max sits in one of the gray-blue chairs, across from me. He still hasn’t put anything in his mouth, and it’s obvious that once again there will likely be a silent battle of wills between the two. The one who only desperately wants to die, but lives for the other, and the one who doesn’t quite understand.

“Do they have chocolate?” I ask, and he laughs.

“Yeah, but making something taste better on the way down doesn’t at all improve the taste coming up.” His almost smirk creeps back. “This is a little bit of a departure, but I think you look beautiful today, Cy. It’s like hobo chic.”

“Really?” I can feel myself smiling, even though I don’t want to give in.

“Yeah. The hair, I mean, if you were going for demented fire truck you hit the nail on the head. And the sneakers? Lime green. Wow.” He’s smiling too now.

“Why don’t you put on a sweatshirt? It’s a little cold in here.” His father says, and rests his forearms on the metal barrier.

“I’m fine, Dad.” Levi presses his lips together, and the almost smirk is gone.

Max looks at him for a while, eyes flicking around, and pats Levi’s thigh, which is still buried under the dirty too-white sheet.


The 4th Saturday

Levi has a fever, and not a mild one. He’s mumbling about something, I don’t know quite what. When I first walked in, he was talking to someone who didn’t exist. He’s halfway sitting up, eyes halfway closed.

“Cyrus.” His voice is so soft. “I’m ok. You should go.”

His cheeks are all bright and hot. His eyes too, but his hands are pale. Dirty too-white.

“I’m not going to leave. I promise.”

“That makes me feel worse.”

His hair looks darker than usual, maybe just because of the stark contrast or maybe in some strange way all that pain is leeching into his scalp. It falls over his forehead, almost into his eyes. He hates that, or he used to hate that.

I reach over, and push it back, and I realize I can feel his warmth without even having to touch him. He sighs, heavy.

“I miss you, all week, when you’re gone.” He’s looking past me now, like I’m not there. For a moment, I wonder if he’s talking to me at all, but I figure he must be. There’s no one else who only visits once a week. “I want you to come, I want to call you but that’s so selfish. You don’t need this. You’re so pretty, you’re so smart, I wish I didn’t ruin it. I ruined everything.”


The one thing I never want to see is Levi crying. He’s always been the rock of our little duo. I was the emotional one. I was the one who chopped my hair on impulse and cried at night and ran away. He was always steady, always calm. He was one of those people who saw farther than the end of his nose, farther into the future than next weekend. In the 9th grade, we’d starting seeing each other. It sounds dumb when I talk about it, but we’d been friends for a very, very long time and it was just then we’d figured out both of us felt the same way.

“I can come after school.” I whisper, and I realize I’m closer than I’ve ever been to holding his hand. At least, while he was inside this forest of white.

He shakes his head, almost vehemently, and his hair falls back into his eyes.

“No, no, no…” He mumbles, but doesn’t bother explaining why. He covers his face with both his hands.

“It’s okay, stop.” I say again, and he takes his hands away. His eyes are even farther away now, and I wonder if he’s alright. I rest my hand against his cheek, and I swear I’ve never been more terrified. He’s burning up. I move away, standing, eyes combing the room for the call button. It takes him a second, but the awareness grows in his eyes.

“Cy, no, please don’t, I’m okay.” His voice is almost slurred. Not the same cadence, not the same wit. I find the red button attached to a cord. Without a beat of hesitation, I press and look back to him. He’s breathing heavy, he looks like he might scream. “No, no, no…”

It seems like before I can do anything, Dot, the busty blonde nurse is walking in. Levi is crying, silent, choking.  

“Just don’t tell my dad. Please don’t tell my dad.” Dot looks genuinely surprised.

“Cyrus, how long has he been like this?”

“Since I came in. He told me-“ She’s turned her attention away from me now, back to Levi, whose tears shine on his cheeks like gems.

“One second, baby. I’ll be right back.” Her hand is on his shoulder for only a moment before she leaves, but he doesn’t seem to notice. He just keeps mumbling,

“Please don’t tell, please don’t tell.”

I want to tell him it’s okay, tell him to stop, tell him he’ll find out no matter what I do, but all the words feel empty. Not enough. Nothing I can say will ever calm him down.

Dot walks back in, a small bag in her hands. She pulls out a thermometer, slips it under his tongue. It’s methodical, clinical. Her faded red fingernails touch his hair, and her thumb wipes his cheek.

He lets her do what she wants.

She takes out this cold cloth and puts it on his dirty too-white forehead. He closes his eyes, the tears almost evaporating. She turns back to me.

“I think you should go.”

The 1st Saturday

“It’s okay, I’m still adjusting, I guess.” He’s sitting on the edge of his bed, and his father is buzzing around, setting up picture frames, putting flowers in vases, propping open “Get Well” cards in a row in front of the window.

“You’ll be out soon.”

The 5th Saturday

“How was last week?” I ask, my sneakers propped up on the barrier between us. It seems like sometimes I’m the only bright thing in the whole room, with my hair and my sneakers and my t-shirts. A beacon in the world of primary and dirty too-white.

“Hell. Literally hell. In every single way.” I’m about to ask him why but I don’t have to, “The flu fucking sucks to begin with, then my dad was all over me, and I couldn’t fall asleep for three whole days, and I was just-“ His voice falters. I realize he’s hooked up to oxygen, through his nose, and there’s an IV needle stuck in his arm. He takes a deep breath, and coughs. “I hate it when people worry.”

The 6th Saturday

“I’ll come more often, twice a week.” He’s picking at his breakfast, again. He looks so awfully uninterested.

“I’m not going to make you do that.”

“You’re not making me do anything.”

The Saturday Before

“Promise me, only Saturdays.” We’re sitting in his room, on the floor.

“I promise.”

The 2nd Saturday

“Why aren’t you still on any medication?” I ask, as he puts down another card.

“Figured if I’m gonna die I might as well not be miserable.”

The 7th Saturday

Levi is asleep, fairly restless, but asleep all the same. Lately I’ve been wondering if he’ll wake up at all. When he does, I just don’t want him to be alone. Maybe he’d rather have it that way, alone with his thoughts, but waking up alone always has a sort of bitter taste.

I understand now why he didn’t want me involved in any of this. It hurts, like nothing else. Watching him hurt.

It sucks. It really, really sucks.

I realize it’s selfish, wanting him here with me, when he’s so sick. He’s suffering not to keep himself alive, but to keep me alive.

He rolls over, rustling the dirty too-white sheet, burying his head in the pillow.

The door creaks open, but he doesn’t stir. Max walks in, carrying yet another cup of instant coffee. It looks like honest to god sludge or mud or something, but he can’t stop drinking it.

“Anything?” It’s the same word, the same inflection each time, and each time the same answer.

“No. Nothing.”

Before the words can stick, I hear the pale lump let out a small jumble of syllables. I can’t make them out, and I can’t see his face, but Max sits down, so he has a front row seat. He never used to drink coffee, not before this.

“Dad?” The voice is like an echo, like a picture with red eye. Oddly familiar, but warped. Ugly. I see Max smile though, all the same, but softly. Gently, as if he’s afraid quick movements might make him dizzy. I wouldn’t be surprised.

“Hey, kiddo.”

“I’m gonna die. I don’t want-“ He coughs. I want to tell him to stop, but I can’t. It’s too true, too real now. There is no walking out, there is no retribution.

“Nobody wants to die.” Max says, and rests one of his hands on his son’s shoulder, still gentle, like he might shatter. From the way he breathes, I don’t doubt it.

I see Levi shake his head. Some of the hair on the nape of his neck is stuck, stuck with sweat to his dirty too-white skin.

“I don’t want to leave you.” He chokes, and again the thought strikes me that I don’t want to see him cry. “Is Cyrus here?”

Max nods.

“I didn’t want you to come.” Levi whispers, so softly I almost can’t make it out. “I’m not me, it’s gross.”

“Can we be alone?” I ask, and Max stands up, nodding, picking up his paper cup full of caffeinated sludge. When the door closes, I climb over the shining silver wall and fall down next to him, except I’m on top of those sheets and he’s beneath them. I can smell the ferrous antiseptic, and I can feel the starchy white underneath my fingers. He turns toward me, I imagine I can hear his joints creak. He rests his head on my shoulder, hazy blue eyes struggling to keep open.

It’s only when I can’t see I realize I’m crying. I feel his dirty too-white thumb wipe one away, and his dirty too-white lips kiss my cheek.

My words surprise me, even as I say them, “Levi.” My voice is soft. “I’m ok. You should go.”

“I’m never going to leave you,” His forehead is pressed against my temple, I can feel his inky hair and his dirty too-white skin and I know I can’t keep him holding my weight, when he can barely hold his own.


And finally, after 7 Saturdays, the white is wiped clean.

The author's comments:

I's always felt the concept of death and dying wasn't fully understood by teenagers, myself included. It's usually because we haven't really experienced loss or death of that kind. This short story, written at the New York Young Writer's Institute which I attended this summer, has led to my writing of a full novel entitled Diagnosis, which is still unfinished. I hope you find something different and new in these characters, and maybe even something familiar too.

Similar Articles


This article has 0 comments.